• axial skeleton;
  • elasmobranch;
  • material properties;
  • mineralized cartilage


In swimming sharks, vertebrae are subjected, in part, to compressive loads as axial muscles contract. We currently have no information about which vertebral elements, centra, arch cartilages, or both, actually bear compressive loads in cartilaginous vertebrae. To address this issue, the goal of this experiment was to determine the load-bearing ability of arch and centrum cartilages in compression, to determine the material properties of shark vertebrae, and to document fracture patterns in the centra with and without the arches. Intact vertebrae and vertebrae with the arch cartilages experimentally removed (centra alone) were subjected to compressive loading to failure at a single strain rate. The maximum compressive forces sustained by the vertebrae and the centra are statistically indistinguishable. Thus we conclude that under these testing conditions the arch does not bear appreciable loads. Independent evidence for this conclusion comes from the fact that vertebrae fail in compression at the centra, and not at the arches. Overall, the results of these mechanical tests suggest that the neural arches are not the primary load-bearing structure during axial compression. J. Morphol. 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.